I've heard the Schrödinger's cat "paradox" (although there's nothing particularly paradoxical about it, just counterintuitive), but I've never been clear on whether or not it's meant to be taken with a grain of salt.
I've always assumed it was just a metaphor for the behavior of particles at the quantum scale, not a description of what would actually happen if you put a cat in a box. The idea that a conscious, human observation of the contents of the box - rather than a more mechanical interaction such as the dead cat hitting the bottom of the box or the live cat breathing the air in the box - would have any bearing on the state of the system quite honestly seems insane to me. I see no reason that the gravitational effects of the massive particles in the cat, the interaction of the cat with the box, the air, or other parts of the cat itself wouldn't be sufficient to collapse the wave-function. Why does someone need to see it? Is nature really supposed to treat conscious observers differently from any other object?
So, my question is this: Do quantum physicists literally believe the implications of this thought experiment, taken at face value, or is it an impossible but conceptually illustrative explanation of what happens when observing single particles? This paradox has been explained to me many times by different sources, and not once have a heard a disclaimer at the end along the lines of: "but, of course, this is completely ridiculous and only really happens with very small objects, not complex systems like cats and boxes." Is this disclaimer implied, or do people really believe this? (in which case my philosophical understanding of quantum physics needs serious revision to understand how this cat predicament could actually be the case.) Thanks in advance!